Why Does My Cat Scratch Furniture?
Cats are social animals who use scent as a major part of their communication. When a cat scratches an object, the scent glands in their pads leave a distinct smell indicating that this particular cat was there.
Cats use a visual component to this scent marking behavior. When they scratch an object, they accompany the scent with visual destruction.
This behavior is an important part of cat social behavior, however, becomes a nuisance when they choose household items, such as furniture. Not only is the social aspect present, but it feels good! They sink their claws into the object and stretch their bodies.
Cats may engage in this behavior more frequently if it is reinforced. Reinforcement is something that increases the behavior, the challenge is that the cat deems what is reinforcing to them.
Your cat may enjoy the outcome of scratching furniture. Since it feels good on their claws to scratch or they enjoy stretching their bodies in this way, they may be directly rewarding themselves for this action. The more rewarding this, the more likely they are to continue.
Even verbally punishing the cat for this may increase their behavior. Cats may scratch furniture to get your attention. When you scold them for their actions, you are still giving them the attention that they are looking for.
Negative attention is still attention.
Boredom or stress
Cats may engage in this behavior if they are bored or stressed. Stressed cats, especially those who may have had a recent change in environment such as a new pet, family member or home, may start this behavior to make the home smell more like them.
Since anxiety is a factor for scratching, pet guardians should not punish their cat for this behavior. Punishment in the form of verbal or physical corrections can increase their anxiety, thus increasing the scratching.
In the case of cats who are not anxious, but just scratch to mark their scent, punishment may still increase the scratching because it will become an attention-getting behavior. Negative attention is still attention to a cat.
What to do
Appropriate Scratching items
Cats need the ability to mark their scent around the house. This doesn’t mean that they need to destroy furniture or spray the house with urine. However, compromises must be made, and appropriate scratching items must be present.
Clipping the cat's nails on a regular basis can help to reduce the damage that is done to the furniture while you are gathering appropriate items. Since the goal is to leave a visual mark for another animal or human to see, it is important that the type of designated scratching post is going to show the destruction.
Sisal rope on cat trees is a good option because it frays after the cat uses it. Cardboard scratchers are another option and are usually inexpensive. You can also sprinkle catnip into the cardboard scratchers to entice them.
Cats have preferences on the texture that they like to scratch on, so if you buy a scratching post and they don’t use it, then try a different type.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
These scratching items must be in locations that the family is social. A common mistake by pet guardians is that they buy the cat scratching posts or other items and then put them in the basement or another secluded location where the cat is unlikely to use them.
Remember, this is a social behavior, so if there isn’t anyone to see or smell the mark, then they will choose something that is in a location where the family is active.
Praise the cat for good behavior if you see them scratching an appropriate item. Avoid using treats to reward them for using the proper scratching item as this will cause them to get distracted and stop scratching.
For the bored cat, it helps to add more enrichment opportunities like a bird feeder outside the window, interactive toys, and cat grass.
These activities keep your cat engaged mentally and physically and can reduce the need to scratch household items.
Verbally or physically punishing your cat will do more harm than good. Your cat will likely continue to scratch furniture because they are stressed. They may also find your scolding reinforcing, especially if they are doing this behavior for attention. Remember, negative attention is still attention.
The other consequence of punishment is that your cat becomes fearful of you. The damage to the bond with your cat will make handling and stressful situations much more difficult if your cat doesn’t trust you. Once the bond is damaged, it can be difficult to regain trust.
For a cat that is stressed, it is important to determine what is causing the stress and work with a trainer or behavior consultant to create a plan to address the issue.
Join Our Scratch That Guide for a complete step-by-step instructions of how to stop your cat from scratching furniture!
The guide is available for purchase for $9